Another 48 hours

It's summer and you know what that means. Yes, the 48 Hour Film Project is back, meaning it's time for local filmmakers — and those who would be filmmakers — to put themselves to the test in the ultimate cinematic pressure cooker. This is the Project's fifth consecutive year in Asheville, and the basic notion is to create a movie running no less than four minutes and no more than seven minutes in, well, 48 hours.

Team Sprezzatura shoots The Bad News Bearer in Washington, D.C. during last year’s project. Photo by David S. Holloway

That basic notion, however, is just the beginning of the undertaking’s calculated insanity. As if making an entire film in 48 hours isn't daunting enough, the process has certain added challenges. Filmmaking teams arrive at home base (Asheville Pizza & Brewing Co.) knowing only that they'll be making a movie.

Genres are assigned at the last minute, so if you get there and have it in mind that you're going to knock out the world's greatest seven-minute horror film, there's every chance you'll instead find that you're going to be told to make a western or a drama or a noir thriller instead.

Pre-planning what you're going to make simply isn't practical. That's part of the challenge, and it can be part of the fun. Last year, one team drew the genre "historical drama" and so disliked the idea that they spent their seven minutes demonstrating just why the genre "sucked." Did they win? No, but they got a special award — created on the spot — for "best subversion of genre."

The up-in-the-air aspect of the Project doesn't end there. Other requirements include an assigned line of dialogue that has to be worked into the film, plus a character name. They're also given a prop that has to appear in the film (last year it was an ashtray). Never forget that the great showman Cecil B. DeMille had a sign in his office that read, "Say it with props," something that past entrants seem to have creatively taken to heart. Considering that there are awards given for best use of prop, as well as dialogue and character, that's a serious point to bear in mind.

Stepping up to the plate to wrangle the Project this year is MK Harrison. “I definitely wanted to become involved with the arts in Asheville, and since I just moved here, what better way to be introduced to it than this?" she reasoned.

Does the changed in leadership portend a change in approach for 2009? Not directly, no, but it does turn out that there are some different dynamics this year. "This year we've had actors and production people who are new to town or just aren't hooked up with people wanting to be part of teams," Harrison says. "It's interesting that individuals are coming out of the woodwork wanting to be part of this."

The timing of this year's filmmaking blitz is also different. "Unfortunately, the Project is falling on Father's Day this year, so last time I checked we only had 19 teams signed up, but from what I understand a lot of people do wait till the last minute," says Harrison. "I'm happy with the turnout, given this and the economy." (At press time, there were 28 registered teams on the Project's Web site, as opposed to the 37 who participated last year).

The basics, however, haven't changed. Genres will be drawn on Friday night, June 19, and films have to be turned in by 7 p.m. on Sunday at Asheville Pizza & Brewing Co. This year, there's another extra incentive and potential reward. "The films that win can actually be shown at Cannes next year," Harrison says. "Isn't that cool?" (Ten of the best films of the 2009 tour will be screened at the Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner.)

Cool, indeed — and a barometer of the growing respect for the Project.

Anyone who's seen the results of the previous years' efforts already knows that some of the films are really quite astonishing. Newcomer Harrison has herself been more than a little surprised by the level of quality. "They did send me previous years' DVDs and I've been blown away," she says. Having been a judge the last couple years myself, I wasn't surprised to hear this.

Does Harrison have a specific goal for the 48 Hour Film Project? Yes, and it's a very simple one: "It's just my mission to get the community more involved."

At this point in our cultural — and economic — climate, that's a goal that may be as difficult as it is lofty. But in the end, it all comes down to the filmmaking teams, and they haven't let us down yet.

who: Courageous filmmaking teams and the audiences who love them
what: 48 Hour Film Project
where: Asheville Pizza and Brewing Company, Merrimon Avenue location. Info at www.48hourfilm.com/asheville
when: Kickoff at 6 to 7 p.m. Friday, June 19. Dropoff by 7:30 p.m. Sunday, June 21. Screenings at 4, 7 and 10 p.m., Tuesday, June 23 to Thursday, June 25.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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